Letter: Winter Shelters Could Be a Solution

Letter addressed to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

First, I want to laud you and Supervisor Barger on leading the way to banning encampments in the unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains.  We are a tinderbox, and this will no doubt help our sheriff teams and outreach workers move people to safer locations. This was a smart step in balancing the needs of the homeless with those of the community. Thank you for hearing our concerns and recognizing the lives, property and environment that can be saved by this one motion that you authored. This was a huge step and it puts us 50 percent closer to a safer Santa Monica Mountains.  It is for this reason that I am asking you to open the LA County winter shelters for use as emergency fire season shelters when the live fuel moisture levels drop or are predicted to drop below 75 percent, three days in advance of a predicted wind event, or when conditions are critical. 

Malibu City Public Safety Manager Susan Dueñas and Malibu Mayor Paul Grisanti have been working with your office in the hopes of opening the county winter emergency shelters for use as “high fire severity shelters.”  This is a great idea that has support across our mountains and foothill regions. Not only are we protecting our wildlands, property and resources, but the lives of the homed and homeless. 

The explosive and exponential threat of a wind event compounding our low moisture levels is terrifying.   As of July 30, 2021, the LA County Fire Department website is reporting that the Topanga live fuel moisture (Trippet Ranch station) at just 60 percent. This is the “critical” threshold and one we don’t normally encounter until mid-October. Fuel moisture readings are down 3.5-10.4 percent across the region, down from just one month prior. New readings are due at the end of August but are almost surely going to follow the decreasing moisture trend. Add to this that we have almost daily incidents of both accidental encampment and arson fires in our canyons, dry stream beds, under bridges and occupied homes, and recreational wilderness areas. It is a powder keg combination, but one you can diffuse, even if just on an emergency basis. 

Having enforcement power was a great first step and thank you. We are 50 percent on our way to a solution but need your continued help with the emergency housing component. Without having anyplace to move the many hundreds of motor and pedestrian homeless out of the fire zones, our enforcement teams can only “chase” the problem. The Santa Monica Mountains and foothills, Topanga, Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura, Palisades, our neighbors, all struggle with the “where” question. Malibu just appointed a Homeless Taskforce and is dedicated to finding solutions singularly and with our neighbors, but our coastal zone is subject to layers of extreme environmental and zoning regulations. As we look down the road for solutions, we are in an emergency rush now. We need to house people out of the brush so that we can continue to recover from Woolsey and continue to lend support to the county.

We are all working together to find mid- and long-range solutions to our homeless crises, but today feels like we are staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. 

Please, help us help those in need and your constituents stay safe during this extreme fire season and beyond.  

Our gratitude to you for taking that first very big step, and in advance for helping us through what is sure to be another long fire season. 

Disclosure: The author is currently serving as a Malibu City Homeless Taskforce appointee at the pleasure of Steve Uhring; however, is writing a private citizen 3rd district constituent for the purposes of this letter.

Kelly Pessis and the Pressis-Breese family

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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